The Cobar Camels

Cobar is a tiny town in far north-western New South Wales. As the crow flies, it is more than 700 kilometres from Sydney.

The locals like to think that their town is part of rugby’s heartland, grassroots style – but there is barely a blade of green to be seen anywhere in Cobar.

Barren wasteland and desert is more like it. And in the middle of that barren wasteland, stretching almost as far as the eye can see, is the huge, underground Endeavor mine.

It’s the zinc, lead and silver that the mine produces that sustains the town of roughly 3,800. However, on winter weekends, 99.9 per cent of the town’s inhabitants can be found supporting their local heroes, the Cobar Camels rugby team.

In fact, one of the few places where you can find patches of green (with a lot of brown trampled through) is at the Ailsa Fitzsimmons Memorial Oval, the Camels’ home field and training ground.

The Cobar Camels, who play in the Western Plains zone, would have to be the most unique rugby club in Australia, if not the world.

Firstly, there is the team itself. As you would expect, it is comprised entirely of miners. The coaches have no choice but to juggle their team selection around the mine’s work roster: Seven days on, seven days off.

Then there is the travel required just to play an eighty-minute match.

Cobar is geographically challenged, and that is an understatement. The nearest away ground is 130 kilometres by road. The farthest is 480.

A Camels player might finish his shift at seven on a Saturday morning, jump in a bus, travel three or four hours on the road, play two halves of rugby, and then travel another four hours back to Cobar. Dedication is the only way to describe it.

And with mine work being a transitory profession, the Camels get creative in recruiting new players.

In 2008, the club was facing a major crisis as they struggled to find enough players to field a team. Thankfully for the Camels, fate intervened when a former Fijian international rugby player, Netava Tagi, answered the call. A job was found for Tagi at the mine and he took up the roles of player and coach with the team.

The crisis passed and the club soon began taking on members from different sporting codes, with players from rugby league, AFL and soccer beginning to turn out for the Camels. At one point they even recruited a former Canadian Ice hockey player as a prop forward.

Fast-forward to 2016 and the Camels are doing their best to embrace the modern way of playing the game. There is a new head coach, John ‘The Outlaw’ Barnes, suitably named for a town in the state’s ‘wild’ west. An experienced sportsman, Barnes also doubles as the team’s strength and conditioning coach.

The Outlaw originates from a strong rugby pedigree, having spent 30 years playing the game in South Africa. More than half those years were in first grade, and five years  playing provincial rugby. He moved to Australia to become strength and conditioning coach for the Western Force in Perth, who won the international Super Rugby competition in 2014.

Barnes also has a Master’s degree in personal training. He was a trainer for the South African Army’s special forces and, at one time, wrestled professionally under the name his Camels would come to know him by: ‘Outlaw’. They like to do things a little differently in Cobar.

The Camels only had one win last season. They’ve only ever won two first grade premierships in their history, in 1976 and 1996. The Outlaw is determined turn this record around, and this year could be the year.

If you’re sceptical, just ask anyone from Cobar and they’ll put you right.

But even if the Camels don’t end up being the best side in the competition, they are certainly going to be the fittest with the ‘Outlaw’ laying down the law.

You might think that travelling vast distances just to play a game would become a bit of an ordeal for a team, but it doesn’t seem to worry the Camels one little bit. The travel isn’t a problem but the cost of doing so is. At one point, the club was spending close to $20,000 a year just to play games of rugby.

The Camels needed a cost effective solution so they did what any other club might do in their situation. They bought themselves a bus. It’s not the fastest or flashiest piece of machinery but it gets the job done, and the club does its best to make each away trip a special event.

How do you go about entertaining a group of hard nut rugby players for four hours? No worries, the Camels have that sorted: You get everyone to sing songs. Plenty of songs. You sing them loud and out of tune, but it won’t bother anyone. When you’re with your mates and doing something you love no one’s going to be bothered if you don’t get the tune quite right.

The team is named after an animal that is a ship of the desert, built for endurance and the long haul. There really is no better way to sum up this bush rugby club.

 

Elite Sports People Can Be As Entertaining In What They Say Almost As Much As What They Do On The Field Of Play

It’s funny, how the majority of us can become enthralled by people who throw, run with, catch or kick a ball. Leather or pigskin, it doesn’t matter. We love it.

We marvel at the athleticism, the freakish skills, an ability to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat and vice versa. We love it when it goes right and we love it just as much when it goes wrong because then we become that exalted oracle of all that is good and true, otherwise known as the armchair critic.

We love the on field entertainment. But every now and then an elite sports person comes along who can be as entertaining just by opening their mouth and saying a few words. One of those people is an Australian rugby player called Nick Cummins.

To know Nick Cummins is to love him. But the hard part is the getting to know him especially if you don’t come from Australia. Nick Cummins speaks English but not as you know it. To follow what he is saying requires an understanding of the peculiar, eccentricities of Australian English. If you don’t have a grasp then you won’t know what the hell he is talking about.

Let me just lay a couple of Nick Cummins–isms on you so you’ll get what I mean.

Nick Cummins has a nickname. He is known as the Honey Badger. He was being interviewed after a rugby match and was asked how he came by the nickname and this is what he said:

“One of the stories that inspires me is that it is documented that a honey badger killed a lion in a one-on-one. What happened was that he clawed the canastas off the big fella. He just went one-two on the ball bag and the big fella has walked around the corner and fell over….that to me is outstanding.”

If you read that paragraph two or three times you might get what he is eluding to. Sort of. Possibly. The Japanese don’t. Nick Cummins is currently playing as a professional in Tokyo and the Japanese called him the Honey Budger, which is kind of cute.

But really, Nick Cummins needs to be accompanied at all times by a professional translator. Lucky for you, I speak perfect Australian and I am happy to translate his best quotes and turn them into something resembling English.

Quote: “ I just saw the line, pinned me ears back and ended up bagging a bit of meat in the corner which was tops.”

Translation: I caught sight of the try-line, accelerated to the very limit of my abilities and managed to score, which was pleasing.

Quote: “ Yeah mate I bloody was like a rat up a drainpipe in one of them runs there.”

Translation: I ran particularly fast in one instance.

Quote: “He was huffin’ and puffin’ and, mate he did well, he always does, he’s a tough rooster.”

Translation: My teammate was breathing heavily but he persevered. He always does. He is very hardy.

Quote: ” I’m gonna have a truckload of pudding and uh, old mum’s good on the cook too so, Dad’s got the tucker ready over there and mum and dad are gonna work together and form a massive feed and I’m going to come in and dominate it.”

Translation: I intend to eat a large volume of pudding. My Mother is more than competent at the culinary arts as well. My Father is getting the food ready over there. The two of them will combine their talents to create a meal of sufficiently large proportions. Then I intend to devour all of it.

Quote: “ I was busier than a one-legged man in a bum kicking contest.”

Translation: I was under extraordinary pressure because of the workload I was given during the match.

Of course when people hear Nick Cummins come out with this stuff they are a bit shocked but in a good way. To borrow an Australianism, the Honey Badger is a fair dinkum character and sadly there are too few of them.

But it would be too easy and unfair to describe Nick Cummins as a one trick pony when it comes to producing actions that we can laugh at and admire both on and off the sports field.

He is also a very devoted and loving son to his parents and his brothers and sisters. As a rugby player, Nick Cummins is at the very top of his game. He plays test match rugby for Australia. But very recently he turned his back on the game in Australia to play professional rugby in Japan but not for the reasons that you might think.

Yes he did it for the money. But not for himself, it was for his family. Nick Cummins’ father has incurable prostate cancer which has made him unable to work and that has been a considerable drain on the family finances. Nick Cummins has seven siblings, two of whom have cystic fibrosis, an incurable lung disease. So Nick has stepped in and stepped up. He accepted a lucrative contract but it will go to help the family during some very tough times.

Cummins has 40 thousand followers on Instagram, 34 thousand on Twitter and his match videos have millions of views on Youtube.

He is one of the few people who can win over an entire host nation on an Australian rugby tour with a few choice words said in a post match television interview.

While he’s been in Japan he has shot some television commercials. You should check them out. Just like the old spice guy but way funnier IMO.

So he is gone but not forgotten. Hopefully, he will be back soon to entertain us again. The world needs guys like Nick Cummins and not just because we like to watch a skilled athlete. He makes us laugh and that, is the best kind of medicine there is.